Joining the Team: Duncan Dodson

duncandodsonHello world! My name is Duncan Dodson. I am a senior from Tulsa, Oklahoma, pursuing a BS in Environmental Science with a focus on Energy and Sustainability. Though my interests and academic pursuits at Duke have shifted over the course of my undergraduate career (I spent over half of it pursuing a mechanical engineering degree), a constant passion has been conservation of the environment. From age six I was involved in the Boy Scouts of America, received my Eagle Scout Award at sixteen, and have been an avid backpacker for five years. I recently co-directed Duke’s experiential education and backpacking based pre-orientation trip, Project WILD, and have been involved with various outdoor and environmental organizations the past three years.

Two things draw me towards exploring environmental issues: the impetus to think selflessly – environmental justice – and the necessity to approach problems on a larger scale – global climate change. Duke and my selective living group Ubuntu have challenged me to explore how we interact with the world around us in both wonderful and destructive ways.

My other budding passion at Duke is education. Challenging knowledge and ideas by informing and listening is a key part of learning. Transitioning from a more homogeneous community in Oklahoma to the vibrant and varied Triangle Area has framed my education in this respect. This is why I applied to write for the Duke Research Blog. Informing others of energy and sustainability research at Duke excites me; having an open forum where exposure to contrary opinions is expected impassions me.

Hopefully my exploration is as intriguing for readers as it is for me!

Futurity Research News Site Turns Five

Guest Post by David Jarmul

Futurity.Org, a website that has shared Duke’s research news with millions of readers around the world, is celebrating its fifth anniversary this week.

(Credit: Paul Albertella/Flickr)

(Credit: Paul Albertella/Flickr)

Launched in 2009, Futurity has since recorded 12 million visits and 16 million page views. Among the approximately 10,000 stories it has published are recent Duke offerings on baboon behavior, the treatment of hepatitis C, species extinction and smoking rates among immigrants.

Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations, helped launch the site, which presents research from 62 leading universities in the United States and other countries in a colorful, non-technical format designed to reach wider audiences.

“When we started Futurity five years ago we hoped to create a new channel to those interested in thoughtful stories about university research,” Schoenfeld said. “That has tfuturity.org logourned into a very successful venture in digital media, and helped create a model collaboration among the top universities in the world.”

Karl Bates, director of research communications for the Office of News and Communications (and editor of this blog), serves as the university’s “bureau chief” for Futurity, working with researchers and communicators across the campus to identify newsworthy stories. He then works with the Futurity editorial team, based at the University of Rochester, to present the stories on Futurity’s website and social media channels on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Schoenfeld, who continues to chair Futurity’s governing board, said the site hopes to build on its success and is considering expanding into new arenas to keep pace with the rapidly changing media landscape.

Joining the Team: Lyndsey Garcia

Hi! My name is Lyndsey Garcia and I’m proud to call myself a Duke student!

I’m a sophomore in the Pratt School of Engineering and I’m still attempting the infamous biomedical engineering, pre-med route. I was born on the naval base in Whidbey Island, Washington but have spent the last ten years in hot, hot Dallas, TX.

Lyndsey Garcia

Lyndsey Garcia

I love to water ski, snowboard, workout, play sports, sleep, eat carbohydrates, and binge watch Netflix shows. I was a big volleyball player in high school and play for the club volleyball team on campus. I used to play positions that were designated for taller girls, but my teammates quickly outgrew me and was sent to the back row. Yet, I found a way to embrace my short stature and love playing defense. Along with volleyball, I work as a lifeguard at the Duke Aquatic pools and peer tutor in organic chemistry.

Some families like to play board games. Some families like to go on exotic vacations. My family likes to listen to podcasts. I listen to Morning Edition when I ride on the bus and to Planet Money when I lift weights. My love for podcasts has helped expand my love for learning. I have learned about current events in Israel, along with different points of view on health care, and new advancements in cancer research. Having already a passion for math and science and an excitement for learning about the newest developments, it was a natural progression that I would seek to combine these interests to join a research blog. The opportunity to report on all the fascinating developments occurring at leading research institution is one of the greatest things I can imagine!

I love Duke and all it has to offer. While getting a first class education, you can cheer for a top ten basketball team. After doing research in the lab, you can toss of Frisbee with your friends in the gardens. Now I can attend interesting lectures and interview my peers on their intriguing research and develop my love of reporting it to all our readers!

A Quiet but Fundamental Case in the Flame Retardant Debate

By Olivia ZhuClose up of sofa in the living room

The dangers of flame retardants have long been the source of public health debate, thrust into the public eye by legislators, non-profit organizations, and special interest groups.

Often missing, though, is the story of the extensive scientific background necessary to ground these arguments: Heather Stapleton, the Dan and Bunny Gabel Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics and Sustainable Environmental Management, and research scientist Ellen Cooper and their teams  fill this role at the Nicholas School of the Environment.

As a former intern at the Center for Environmental Health, where I advocated against legislation that promotes the use of flame retardant chemicals, I was fascinated to learn the technical side of the conversation from Cooper.

Flame retardants have been present in furniture and other foam-based items largely due to fire safety regulations like California’s TB117, which requires home furniture to resist bursting into flame for a certain amount of time. Historically, manufacturers have met this standard by using flame retardant chemicals that may impact brain development in children or even cause cancer. Consequently, foam producers have added flame retardants to all their foam, even foam meant for products not covered under TB117. Evidently, the resulting flame retardant-laden selection of furniture poses a threat to the health of consumers, who effectively have little choice in protecting themselves against potentially dangerous chemicals.

Nicholas school environmental chemist Heather Stapleton in the lab. (Duke Photography)

Nicholas school environmental chemist Heather Stapleton in the lab. (Duke Photography)

Unsurprisingly, scientifically studying flame retardants requires rigorous chemical analysis. Ellen Cooper, along with the Analytical Chemistry Core, specializes in preparing foam samples and running them through mass spectrometers to identify the flame retardants. The Chemistry Core collaborates with the Stapleton Lab to ensure accurate analysis of often-fragile flame retardants. Both are a part of Duke’s Superfund Research Center.

Cooper’s work has been instrumental in the Stapleton lab’s creation of a foam testing service for consumers. In January, the Stapleton lab started the first foam testing service ever open to the public! Now, consumers can send in up to five samples from their furniture to receive complimentary results which are provided by the Analytical Chemistry Core. On the foam testing website, consumers can also find statistics on common sources of flame retardants and information on how to avoid exposure to flame retardants. Through these efforts, the Stapleton lab is allowing consumers to take back their autonomy.

Additionally, Cooper is working to create a database of all collected samples. Currently, there exists no definite data on which manufacturers’ products contain which flame retardants, or how levels of flame retardants in furniture have changed over time. With enough data points,  Cooper and her team hope to create such heat maps or time analyses, making for a more informed debate, and ultimately a more well-protected public.

Duke’s ALS Challenge is Conventional Wisdom

By Kelly Rae Chi

What all those folks dumping ice water over their heads to raise money for the ALS Association may not realize is that a small number of patients with the degenerative neurological disease might sometimes get better.

In a new patient-funded program called ALS Reversals, Duke researchers are trying to find out why.

“Any time you have a patient with ALS who’s getting better, no matter what it is that they’re doing, I think you should try to put a lot of effort into understanding that patient,” said Richard Bedlack, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at Duke University School of Medicine and director of the Duke ALS Clinic.

Richard Bedlack, M.D. Ph.D.

Richard Bedlack heads Duke’s ALS Clinic.

Not everyone believes that the reversal of ALS is real. And if it is, then some skeptics say that the number of examples might be too few to learn anything of value from, Bedlack said.  “I would say the only way you’ll know the answer to that is to try,” he added.

Bedlack said there may be three possible explanations for why some people with ALS stop progressing or get better. First, the person may never have had ALS in the first place; he or she may instead have an unusual form of myasthenia gravis, for example.

Second, something unique about that person’s body might be helping them fight the disease. “The [first and second] possibilities can be teased apart. We can get these folks to send their records and come to Duke, and we can study them,” Bedlack said. The researchers would like to compare these patients’ gene sequences, gene expression data or antibody profiles to those of more typical ALS patients.

The third, and perhaps most controversial, explanation for ALS reversal is that the patient tried a treatment that worked.

The idea for the ALSReversals came to Bedlack as he was reviewing alternative and off-label therapies for ALS. In an effort to quash misinformation floating around the web about such therapies, Bedlack had started ALSUntangled, a group of scientists and clinicians who systematically study any available evidence behind a given therapy — elected by the public via social media — and publish an open review about it.

To Bedlack’s surprise, the ALSUntangled team found that some alternative ALS therapies might show some promise, and probably need more study. One of those was lunasin, a peptide derived from soybeans that is sold as a nutritional supplement. The group is still finishing their review of lunasin and Bedlack plans to carry out a pilot study of it through the ALS Reversals program.

In the past decade, new research has already helped ALS patients by improving their quality of life and functioning. This has made the work of the Duke ALS Clinic more about helping people live with the disease rather than just diagnosing them.

And just for good measure, the clinic team also participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Bedlack is excited by the new attention to ALS. “I’ve never seen ALS being talked about by so many people,” he said, adding that he looks forward to seeing what comes of the boost in funds.

The viral  Ice Bucket Challenge has so far raised more than $94 million in donations to the ALS Association as of Aug. 27.

An estimated 30,000 Americans are living with ALS. One in 500 people will develop ALS in his or her lifetime. It’s incurable, and terrible. But maybe you have already learned that through the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Summer Restoration in a Bolivian Winter

By Olivia Zhu2014-06-19 10.45.15

My biggest accomplishment this summer was being able to call the mountains of Bolivia home. Far away from the lecture halls of Duke, I encountered a profound, alternative education that included everything from learning traditional dances to working in a rural hospital laboratory to raising pigs.

Of course, living in Bolivia for two months had its challenges, like a diet in which potatoes were considered vegetables, repeated food poisoning from chicha, the local alcoholic drink consisting of fermented corn, lack of a consistent water source, many near-car accidents, and most of all a deep-seated machismo, but I feel that these were all almost inextricable aspects of a culture that left such a positive impression upon me.

El Hospital Pietro Gamba in Anzaldo, Bolivia

El Hospital Pietro Gamba in Anzaldo served over 69 rural communities in Bolivia

Of course, the inextricability of such factors posed a problem for me as an intern at El Hospital Pietro Gamba encouraging sustainable development to promote public health. Although 80% of children had head lice, a vast majority contracted repeated gastrointestinal bacterial infections, and countless had scabies, the community seemed to get along contentedly. Regardless, with support from the Foundation for Sustainable Development and DukeEngage, my sponsor organizations, I leveraged the relatively new running water system, implemented only 25 years ago, to set in motion a comprehensive lice campaign, to obtain government funding of soap in public restrooms for at least two years, and to create preventative medicine informational materials.

The majority of my education, though, occurred outside the scope of my project. Most importantly, I’ve learned to openly embrace different forms of learning, like relaxation or soccer, that energize me to wholeheartedly pursue my rigorous biophysics career, which I am so fortunate to have at one of the best universities in the world.

The idea of the Aymara New Year illustrates my mentality poignantly: on the first day of the Aymara New Year, traditional Bolivians wish for health, prosperity, and happiness, just as we do in the United States. However, they have a deeper connection with Pachamama, or Mother Nature: on New Year’s Day, they wake up early in the morning to stand on the ground barefoot, awaiting the first rays of the sun. They believe that watching these rays rise above the horizon and light the earth will bring them energy for the entire year. In this, the Aymara New Year represents both personal aspiration and attenuation with the environment.

Similarly, I now aim to maintain a balance between self and surroundings: I hope to be more attuned to the world around me rather than single-mindedly submersing myself in quantum physics, as I believe that varied experiences will infuse me with energy in whatever I pursue. Now, back at Duke for the start of my junior year, I’m excited to begin blogging again and to continue my adventures and education here on campus.

The Aymara sunrise on June 21, 2014.

The Aymara sunrise on June 21, 2014.

Chimpanzee Voices From the Past Go Digital, Open Access

By Karl Leif Bates

A treasure trove of chimpanzee audio recordings from the 1970s has been posted on an open access site for study by a team that includes Evolutionary Anthropology chair Anne Pusey, who also directs Duke’s Jane Goodall Institute Research Center.

An image from the  Scientific Data paper shows the bulky, analog field gear used for making recordings in the 70s.

An image from the Scientific Data paper shows the bulky, analog field gear used for making recordings in the 70s.

Announced this week in the open access journal Scientific Data, the collection includes more than 1,100 recordings made of 17 immature chimpanzees, totaling 10 hours. The recordings were made between 1971 and 1973 by the late Hetty van de Rijt-Plooij and Frans X. Plooij, Dutch researchers working at Goodall’s study site in Gombe National Park, Tanzania.

Though the Plooij collection was catalogued and annotated — notes which Frans then translated from Dutch to English with support from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham — the massive collection has never been studied. Preparation of the metadata for the audio recordings was supported by the National Science Foundation (LTREB-1052693).

What the newly digitized recordings represent is the opportunity to study the development of vocalization over a chimpanzee’s lifetime, Pusey explained. Many of the individuals who were recorded as infants and adolescents subsequently turn up in recordings made by Peter Marler in 1967, Charlotte Uhlenbroek in 1991–1993, and Lisa O’Bryan in 2009–2010.

The authors say, “comparing their adult recordings with their infant/juvenile recordings might be an especially effective way of studying vocal development.”

They’re also just kind of fun to listen to. (Browse the entire catalog here.)

Jane Goodall visited Anne Pusey and the archive of Gombe field notes at Duke in 2011. (Duke Photo)

Jane Goodall visited Anne Pusey and the archive of Gombe field notes at Duke in 2011. (Duke Photo)

This work is the latest in a trend of Duke becoming one of the world’s great centers of longitudinal primate studies. Pusey’s work on this audio collection joins the more than 50 years of observational notes and data from Gombe now housed at Duke; Susan Alberts has led the assembly of life history data from nine different primate field studies into a single database. And nearly 50 years of captive lemur data from the Duke Lemur Center was digitized and just posted a few weeks ago. (Pro version on Scientific Data.)

Can Research Help Students Avoid Bad Decisions?

By Kelly Rae Chi

Of all the freshman arriving at Duke next week — coming from far and wide to take challenging courses, navigate new living arrangements, make and break friendships  – who will thrive?

What is it about a person that gives him or her the ability to cope with the stress of college better than somebody else?

2012_MoveIn

Duke researchers are examining the student experience to better understand how and when to prevent substance abuse problems.

That’s what a small crowd of basic researchers and clinicians wondered aloud this week during a Grand Rounds mini-retreat introducing Duke’s new Center On Addiction and Behavior Change (CABC).

In particular, the CABC and affiliates are interested in the mental health issues students bring to campus, what happens when they get here, and what can be done at the institutional level to steer them toward healthful choices.

Last year, trustees of The Duke Endowment approved a $3.4 million, four-year grant to help Duke and three other schools toward this goal.  The CABC’s charge is to study prevention, early intervention and treatment of addiction with an eye toward public policy development and community outreach at Duke.

The center’s co-director Timothy Strauman, a professor of psychology and neuroscience, said 30-40% of students enter college having been diagnosed with a mental health issue. Many attack life on campus with a “work hard, play hard” attitude, to their possible detriment, he added.

The question is whether the university can change the student experience to prevent maladaptive behaviors, like binge drinking, that have become all too common on college campuses.  Researchers attending the mini-retreat offered a range of suggestions for helping students thrive, from changing or eliminating fraternities, to incorporating resilience themes into student orientation activities, to pairing students with mentors.

“The goals of CABC are not just about research and patient care, it’s also about re-engineering how the university works,” Strauman said. “If we can do that, we will have been a success.”

More broadly, the CABC, administered by the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, aims to better understand addiction and behavior disorders through basic and translational research and to convert that knowledge into prevention, early intervention and treatment. With CABC, Duke is poised to improve the health of the community, said the center’s co-director Edward Levin, a Duke professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

The student resiliency project is just one way forward: The center also hopes to integrate services with employee health, and participate in other forms of local outreach.

To accomplish these goals, researchers from a range of research areas in addiction and behavior are now meeting to brainstorm and share resources. At the mini-retreat, for example, John Looney, M.D., a physician in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, shared his expertise as director of Duke’s Consortium for the Study of the American College Student. He also invited the CABC and other researchers to access the program’s survey database about college students (largest of its kind in the world), which includes data on substance abuse.

Math junior flips for ‘bit flips’

By Ashley Mooney

Paul Ziquan Yang is using mathematical techniques to eliminate errors in computer hardware.

Over the summer, the rising junior math major worked with Robert Calderbank, Charles S. Sydnor professor of computer science, as part of the PRUV Fellowship program, a six-week mentorship sponsored by the Department of Mathematics. Yang now plans to continue to work with Calderbank in the fall and may turn the project into a senior thesis.

Paul Z. Yang's summer fellowship in math wasn't all work and no play.

Paul Z. Yang’s summer fellowship in math wasn’t all work and no play.

“Professor Calderbank has been a great source of encouragement and inspiration,” Yang said. “I used to be an engineering major at Pratt, and he was also the one who helped me make my mind to transfer to Trinity and focus on math because that suits me better. I have learned much more from him than just math.”

Yang, from Beijing, China, is studying coding theory, and focusing on how to repair incorrectly stored data. In a computer’s hardware, all information is stored in the form of bits—binary values of zero or one.

Calderbank - crop

Robert Calderbank, director of the Information Initiative at Duke

Within computers, something called a bit flip occasionally occurs where a value of one is replaced with zero or vice versa. In small amounts, these errors are harmless, but when they accumulate they can actually prevent machines from running correctly.

“Our aim is to add redundant information to a fixed list of binary bits so that we can detect the error and possibly correct it,” Yang said. “It’s sort of like cryptography but the aim is different.”

Cryptography is the study and use of mathematical techniques to secure communications and data in the presence of third parties. While cryptography is used to enforce the security of information, Yang employs similar mathematical methods to fix binary coding errors.

Yang noted that he is very excited about his research. “My favorite part is to see the interaction of various branches of math, and how research can connect these branches, even if they seem unrelated at first.”

His classes have provided him with both a theoretical and applied background for his research. His coursework has also trained him in the ways of thinking necessary to develop research questions.

Outside of his classes and research, Yang enjoys spending time with his friends and reading. He said he has also started taking tennis lessons for the first time, and is enjoying the sport more than he expected.

Yang said his long-term plan is eventually to become a professor. After graduation, he is planning on getting a Ph.D. in math, but is still unsure of what he would like to focus on in the field

“The research done at an undergraduate level doesn’t necessarily determine your subject at a graduate level,” Yang said. “I’ll see what interests me more over the next two years of courses.”

Lab develops cheaper, faster cancer vaccine

Sarah Avery, Duke Medicine News and Communications

In the 20 years since a group of Duke University researchers pioneered the use of RNA-loaded dendritic cells as cancer vaccines, they and many others have shown that this is a safe and effective way to induce tumor-specific immune responses.

Florescence microscopy image of mouse dendritic cells with mRNA-loaded blood cells.

Florescence microscopy image of mouse dendritic cells with mRNA-loaded blood cells.

But the approach has had drawbacks – primarily in the amount of time and money it takes to develop the cells.

Now the researchers, led by Smita K. Nair, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Surgery, are moving the science forward with new findings that could significantly improve the utility of this promising therapy.

Appearing in the June 2014, issue of the Journal Advanced Healthcare Materials, Nair and colleagues demonstrate that a tumor vaccine can be formulated by loading RNA into whole blood cells directly after a blood draw without the need for any form of cell culture.

This overcomes the major impediments. The original approach required harvesting cells from the patient via leukapheresis – a step that relies on special equipment and highly trained technicians – to generate dendritic cells from the cellular population. Then the cells were loaded with RNA and injected back into the patient. The process took up to nine days.

Using the new method, the team can create vaccines in less than two hours.

“The therapeutic benefit in mice immunized with mRNA-loaded whole blood cells and those immunized with mRNA-loaded dendritic cells (the gold-standard for cell-based vaccines) was comparable,” Nair said. “This new approach has the potential to be an effective substitute to existing cell-based vaccinations. It could also cut costs for treatment and speed clinical translation of cell-based mRNA tumor vaccines.”

Nair said pre-clinical studies using human blood cells are continuing, with clinical trials on the near horizon.

Duke students present Alzheimer’s research at Montana conference

By Sonal Gagrani

The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) brought together neuroimmunologists from all over the world to Big Sky, Montana in July to discuss their current and upcoming research on mechanisms and therapeutics in neuroimmunology.

They covered a plethora of topics in the field from multiple sclerosis, a neurodegenerative brain disorder, to neuroprotection by microglia, the resident immune cells of the brain, to the effects that intestinal imbalances can have on the brain via the blood brain barrier.

My primary focus at the meeting was to expand my knowledge on Alzheimer’s disease (AD), a dementia-causing neurodegenerative disease of the central nervous system that I am currently researching.

photo

Lauren Kane with her poster at the FASEB conference

We were fortunate to have Lauren Kane, a rising senior in Dr. Carol Colton’s lab at Duke and the only undergraduate student with a poster at the conference, be able to present her work on her Alzheimer’s mouse model.

It is known as a CVN-AD model and has many pathologies found in AD such as β-amyloid plaque formation, neuron loss, tau protein defects, and behavioral deficits. Lauren is studying the changes in myelin, the primary make-up of white matter in the brain. Myelin wraps around axons in order to allow faster communication between neurons. She has found that there is some breakdown in myelin in the CVN-AD model, and this could lead us to find treatments for AD that promote remyelination in the brain.

Matthew Kan, an MD/PhD student in Dr. Michael Gunn’s lab at Duke, also presented his work on Alzheimer’s at the conference. He showed in the CVN-AD mouse model that a possible mechanism of neuronal death may be decreased arginine, an essential amino acid in the brain. Microglia produce arginase-1, an enzyme that breaks down arginine, and Matthew found that blocking arginase-1 activity reversed some neurodegeneration found in the CVN-AD mice. This arginine depletion pathway is known to suppress the brain’s immune system rather than cause inflammation, which many people thought was the mechanism for AD pathology in the past. These results may shift some focus to arginine in looking for AD treatments.

The conference strived to integrate and improve neuroimmunology research by providing a venue for creating connections with the experts in the field. There are many therapeutics for brain disorders in progress that key in on the importance of the brain’s immune system in regulating pathology.

Teachers Look to ‘Alice’ for Help

Guest Post by Leah Montgomery, NC Central University

With technology and computer science among the fastest growing fields of study today, it’s a wonder there are so few computer science classes in public middle and high schools.

Florida teacher Chari Distler’s message to a Duke classroom full of her middle and high school teaching colleagues was a promising one: They can get a new generation of kids interested in computer science.

School teachers from all over the country learned programming at Duke this summer.

School teachers from all over the country learned programming at Duke this summer.

All they have to do is follow Alice.

Alice is a 3D virtual worlds programming environment that offers an easy way to create animations for games and storytelling. Since 2008, Duke Professor Susan Rodger has led a two-week summer program training teachers to use Alice to help promote computer literacy among young students.

“What we’re trying to do is teach middle school and high school teachers, in all disciplines, how to program and then help them to integrate it into their discipline,” said Rodger. “The teachers will then expose students to what computer science is. The idea is that if they know what it is then they might choose it as a career when they go to college.”

Distler attended her first Adventures in Alice Programming session at Duke two years ago and returned this week to advise this year’s class on how she implemented the program in her classes.

She said one of her students from North Broward Preparatory School won second place in the annual Alice contest for his animated 45-second video titled “From Rags to Riches.”

Audrey Toney, an instructional coach for teachers in the North Carolina New Schools network, said she learned about Alice through a teacher who wanted to add programming to her curriculum.

“It gives students computational thinking and critical thinking and offers another way to present other than PowerPoint and Prezi,” said Toney.

Toney wants to challenge her professional development students to use Alice to replicate a design of a robotic arm that will lift and unload boxes. The program will allow students to budget money, price the cost of parts and code the robot’s movements.

During the first week of the workshop, teachers get familiar with the Alice software through interactive activities. Teachers created worlds with flying dragons, flipping princesses and annoyed Garfields.

The teachers worked together on learning Alice programming. (Les Todd, Duke Photography)

The teachers worked together on learning Alice programming. (Les Todd, Duke Photography)

In week two, teachers learned about the use of 3-D imaging in the classroom at the Duke Immersive Virtual Environment (DiVE). The teachers also started creating their own Alice-based lesson plans this week. New Jersey high school teacher Kenneth McCarthy said he found his inspiration in the Sunday paper.

“I was thumbing through the Sunday paper and saw Garfield,” said McCarthy, who teaches algebra two and a beginner programming class . “It just looked like something that could be easily used with Alice.”

McCarthy is familiar with Alice, having used the program last year when his students participated in the Hour of Code, an initiative that challenges students and teachers to learn programming in one hour.

“I think the traditional thought was that you have to know algebra two (and other higher mathematics) to learn this, but Alice can be used in elementary schools,” said McCarthy.

Rising Duke senior Samantha Huerta was a workshop assistant for Susan Rodger for nine weeks this summer, helping develop workshop materials and finding ways to integrate computer science into math and other subjects.

“I wasn’t exposed to any type of computer science growing up,” said Huerta. “This is a field that isn’t going to go away, and we need to have more diversity. As a female Latina, I am a double minority and it is my hope to continue researching and bringing diversity to this field.”